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Posts Tagged ‘Little India riot’

Over-REACHing

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 31, 2015 at 7:45 am

If the G’s REACH people had rung me to ask about the Liquor Control legislation, I would have answered this way:

  1. No, I do not support the restrictions.
  2. No, the restrictions, if imposed, would not affect my lifestyle.
  3. Then comes the third question: Whether I consider public drunkenness a serious problem that has to be countered. I would have said yes…Because on PRINCIPLE, I would have to agree. But then I would have stopped to ask: You mean public drunkenness here? Now? Is it a serious problem? This country with the lowest alcohol consumption in the world? Seriously?

So we finally get to hear some statistics about public drunkenness – at the second reading of the Bill. Just about the last chance for anyone, or rather only MPs, to reflect on them and ask questions.

Last year, there were 47 cases of rioting linked to the consumption of liquor. There were also 115 cases of serious hurt, which were related to drinking. These cases included stabbing, cutting using dangerous weapons, and inflicting severe bodily pain. Nine in 10 occurred after 10.30pm.

Please let me hiccup a few times.

Hic! The rrreview over liquor consumption was started in 2012, and brought into focus after the Little India riot the next year. And all this while, public consultation was going on without the benefit of some numbers to ascertain the seriousness of the problem? What kind of rrrreeeeview is this? Hic!

Hic! We don’t know if these rioters and slashers were all drinking takeway beer after 10.30pm or had emerged sloshed from a licensed premises or got booted out by bouncers onto the public space. But, hey, hic!, So what rrrrright? All the crimes were committed after 10.30pm. Therefore it makes sense to make sure all “public’’ drrrrinking – whether or not it becomes public “drrrrunkenness’’ – stops at 10.30pm….

I have been trying to find the overall statistics on rioting and can only refer to an ST report, released on Thursday, the day before Parliament approved the Liquor Control Bill, saying that rioting involving youths had gone up from 283 arrested the year before to 322 last year. Please note that these riots involved only youths who may or may not be old enough to drink.

So what’s the BIG, national statistic?

I know what some people will think: Why am I nit-picking? Isn’t enough that people are hurt after some people had one too many? Didn’t you hear all those MPs going on and on about the pee, the vomit and the noise? You are in no position to speak because you don’t live in those places where there is public drunkenness.

Really? If it were me, I would be calling the cops all the time and insist that they do their job instead of asking for an omnibus law that affects everyone. My question would be: “Why aren’t the cops doing anything???!’’ Not: “We need yet another law.’’

So I hear this from a lawyer-MP who said that “of course’’ the law is a curb on personal liberties. But the “right to drink where and when you want is not a fundamental liberty’’ if it affects the public interest.

Because it IS a curb on personal liberties, this requires us to be rather more circumspect in imposing the law. This is not like a quarantine order to confine people in their homes to stop the spread of infectious disease. In fact, while others in developed countries might balk against such orders, we’ve shown ourselves pragmatic enough to deny ourselves freedom as was the case during Sars. That was a BIG problem that should be solved. The citizens here agreed.

Then you have the G saying this: “When does the Bill stop being blunt and over-reaching, and when does it start being comprehensive and effective? We can have a lot of rhetorical flourishes and pose interesting questions, but at the end of the day, we need to make a decision, and that decision applies not just to general principles, but also to specific steps that need to be taken on the ground.”

I really think that was not a nice thing to say. Rhetorical flourishes and interesting questions? When it comes to fundamental rights, the questions are merely “interesting’’? Or is the word “academic’’? I suppose the subtext is that this is merely the concern of liberal loonies who put Western ideals of fundamental freedoms above the heartlanders’ law and order concerns.

By the way, hic,,..I am not a liberal loonie, I am a member of the hic! HIC!.. intelligentsia – a term which is practically un-used in Singapore. And it is normal everywhere that the much despised intelligentsia would raise such uncomfortable questions especially if it touches on the extent of State power

As for that REACH survey. So the G denys that it governs by polls, never mind its feedback arm had the poll done. I guess it had to be done to counteract the ST online poll which had more people against the restrictions. The REACH poll, which is “scientific’’, mind you, showed otherwise. In fact, you have the usual suspects saying that the online views are just those of a vocal minority while the REACH poll is a REAL reflection of public sentiment.

I am really quite sick and tired of such dismissals of contrarian views. The G should give us the FACTS, not the views. And give us the FACTS early, not at the last minute.

Isn’t the key question this: Is the state of public drunkenness such that it is beyond the ability of the police to cope? Are there not enough specific laws in place to handle this?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I cannot help but recall how the Little India Commission of Inquiry had repeatedly asked for statistics on public drunkenness in the area and whether the Miscellaneous Offences Act was being enforced against those public drunks who became a nuisance. These statistics were given out then: 60 arrests in 2013 and 27 in 2012. Then nothing heard.

If rioting cases fuelled by drinking had gone up over the years, I certainly didn’t know this despite being an avid follower of local developments in the media. The only time liquor became a problem was the Little India riot, which left the police black-and-blue in the face.

MPs of affected resident say it is about giving back the residents their “space’’. I don’t suppose affected residents think that getting back their “space’’ also means restricting their own and that of other people? Why aren’t they asking where the law is during those times? All those cameras everywhere and it can’t be used to direct officers to clear drunken loiterers or put them behind bars under the Miscellaneous Offences Act?

Then comes this cop-out from the G: Let’s not worry because the law is really about nabbing the really very bad drunks. The police won’t bother to strip search you (even though they can) or break up your beach barbeque (but please get a permit) or arrest you because you were drinking a can of beer at 11pm (but please bin it when told to) In other words, light touch. Or another decorative piece in the law that will be utilised with utmost discretion by the executive. Which sort of begs the question of why the law is there in the first place.

Also there is this crazy point about how the definition of workers’ dormitories as “public places’’ is really just a “technical’’ thing to conform to another piece of legislation. Pttfff…Dismissed.

Sheesh. Shouldn’t we be more careful about protecting ourselves against over-reach by the G? Or should we laugh it away in a drunken fit? Maybe we should say: For more than 20 years, we’ve always had no problems with the G abusing any process. We assume that everything is done according to our expectations. Now this (fill in the blanks) has happened. But never mind, we can always unwind the process. Let’s drink to that!

But now that the Bill is LAW, I can only suggest this for licensed premises to consider: Please start your happy hour earlier.

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Over-protecting the people

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 21, 2015 at 3:12 am

The proposed alcohol curbs don’t affect me; I’m usually in bed by 10.30pm. And I drink on licensed premises anyway. My days of drinking on the beach staring at the stars are long over. As for take-away alcohol, nothing prevents anyone from buying it earlier and stocking up at home as the Home Affairs ministry put it: “members of the public can continue to consume liquor at home during the restricted hours’’. Sheesh. You would have thought such a statement was un-necessary. Surely, no one thinks the State can start imposing on what we can do or cannot do in the confines of our home? Then again, foreign worker dorms have been designated as “public spaces’’…

Never mind all that.

My problem with the restrictions on boozing that are making its way in Parliament is simply this: Are they even necessary? So, they have come in the aftermath of the Little India riot because alcohol was a “contributory’’ factor. We had thought that too many liquor licences had been given out to retailers over there – so a cap on such licences looks reasonable. But we were then told that other areas, such as Chinatown, had even more such licences. Restricting the number of licences would have been good enough surely? Just make sure there is no such ready – and cheap – supply. Instead, the whole population have now been told that they can’t buy takeaway liquor after 10.30pm and can’t drink in public areas during “restricted hours’’.

The penalties for infringements: a fine of up to S$1,000 for a first-time offender, while jail of up to three months and a fine not exceeding S$2,000 can be imposed on repeat offenders.

The promise from the G is that it will be “flexible’’.  Just dispose of that beer can if you are caught with it in public; nothing will happen to you.  If there is one thing I do not like about some of our laws – it is the amount of discretion it gives to the executive arm to enforce…

So the G has come up with two ways to convince people that the legislation is okay.

  1. It has the support of the people, or at least most of the 1,200 people it consulted. I sure hope they do not comprise mainly the residents of Little India and Geylang.
  2. The proposed rules are less draconian than those in other countries, including the developed countries. (Except that most of the laws do not blanket a whole country. And I don’t know the historical circumstances which led to their rules in the first place.)

People have been asking for more convincing evidence that the legislation is needed. It is not a question of people wanting to drink till they are light-headed or stoned out of their minds, but that new laws that affect the public must be grounded in something more solid than a poll of 1,200 people.

I recall the Little India Commission of Inquiry which kept asking if police enforced the Miscellaneous Offences Act. Particularly this section: Any person who is found drunk and incapable of taking care of himself, in any public road or in any public place or place of public amusement or resort, or in the immediate vicinity of any court or of any public office or police station or place of worship, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months.

So there is a law already in place dealing with drunkenness. Thing is, has it been enforced? How many people have we thrown into the brink to sleep it off? Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Ho See Ying, the Commanding Officer of Rochor Neighbourhood Centre, told the COI that there were 60 arrests made last year and 27 arrests in 2012. That is only for the area. Do you think the figure is too big or quite small? Surely, the Home Affairs ministry can give the full statistics island-wide? We have yet to hear the numbers. Have the cops used this scalpel? Why wield a sledgehammer when you already have a specific weapon dealing with drunken behaviour?

I can’t help but think that some people wanted things all neat and tidy. So bits and pieces of legislation scattered in the books relating to alcohol have all been grouped under this Liquor Control Bill. I sure hope the people’s representatives would do a better job of asking about the need for this Bill during the second reading.

I also happen to agree with NGOs on another part of the Bill which designates the foreign worker dorms as a “public space’’. That is, the liquor restrictions would apply. Surely, the dorm operators know how to come up with their own rules? Do we need the law to enter into such private spaces? Or are we saying that foreign workers have no right to privacy at all?

Then there is the other law covering foreign workers in their dormitories. MSM seemed to have focused on how they are intended to make the workers’ living conditions better with a Commissioner empowered to look after their needs. Yup. Wonderful. Great. But there is also this part which I read in TODAY: The Commissioner will also have the power to order operators to restrict the entry and exit of dorm residents if there is a serious health threat or risk, or if there is a risk that incidents outside and within Singapore — including civil unrest, hostilities, war, and elections — could generate ill-will or hostilities among or between residents.

My goodness! Isn’t this rather too broad and sweeping? If there is a hotly contested election in say, Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi workers will be confined to their dorms? Or if ethnic groups in China start fighting each other, we’re afraid that the Chinese workers will start an altercation with locals here? Bear in mind that the foreign workers do indeed come from countries which aren’t as politically stable and sedate as Singapore…I guess the response from the State will be that it will be “flexible’’ and not resort to such measures willy-nilly. That is, can we please place more trust in executive “discretion’’.

I read about the MPs going on about why the smaller dorms aren’t covered by the law which is only effective against those with 1,000 beds or more. I wish they didn’t put cart before horse. Shouldn’t the Bill itself be scrutinized properly before we even start asking for an extension? Or do we treat foreign workers as a different species altogether because we want to put Singaporeans first?

Again, I view both pieces of legislation as “convenient’’ for the State rather than necessary for the people. So what if Parliament has to be convened time and again for the G to ask for specific temporary powers to maintain law and order, such as the Public Order Bill? Too messy and time-consuming? But that’s democracy isn’t it?

The Government is there to protect the people but I think sometimes, we also need to ask if getting too much “protection’’ is a good thing for us, the people.

A new vision – in hindsight

In Politics, Society on December 28, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Okay, now that I’ve done my year-end round-up, it’s time for the usual look ahead.

I have to say that 2014 was pretty boring, at least by the standards of 2013. No by-elections, no Population White Paper, no illegal strike by bus drivers and no Little India riot. I suppose I should substitute boring with peaceful. Yup, a peaceful 2014 with long-term worries about low productivity and increasing core inflation. Everything exciting (read: bad) was happening outside Singapore – even flooding! We’re above water this time, so we’re not even grumbling about flash floods as much as before. Even the haze wasn’t as bad.

I am going to sound like the G when I say this but….

  1. we really had it pretty good
  2. we have much to be thankful for
  3. this is a good place to live in

I now await the brickbats.

I liked what Sunday Times writer Rachel Chang said in her column today, that we seem to have reached a stage of melancholia, looking back at our past successes (at least the material ones) and wondering if life will get better. We are angsty people. I see the angst all the time online, and I ask myself if it is merely fashionable to be pessimistic online. Whether we’re making mountains out of molehills and see every bump as a sign of an inevitable decline of this Little Red Dot.

It’s true that things are getting more expensive, the place is getting crowded and we don’t think everything is running as efficiently as before. I’d like to think that to counteract the above, our wages are also going up, more planning is being done to fit in the crowd and maybe we have unreasonable expectations of how things should work because, truth to tell, we can’t seem to separate inconveniences from complete disasters. Of course our train system could be better, but I gather it’s better than most places. We wish our education system was less stressful but we don’t consider that we might be contributing to the stress faced by our children. Some people can’t afford medical bills but that is hopefully being fixed with Medishield Life. And never mind that we can’t see our full CPF at age 55. The thing is, CPF Life will give you money till you die, and to your beneficiaries if you have some leftover.

I know we don’t think much of a Mandai makeover or a Jewel at Changi Airport. They will take years. We know more MRT lines are coming up, but it is not NOW.  So what if the transfers from the G, whether through rebates and credits are increased, we say, when we still have to pay fees, fines and taxes and more for a bowl of noodles at the hawker centre. Give with one hand, take with the other, as a popular sentiment goes.

We are such sour people and maybe we should stop to ask ourselves if our life is so bad that we don’t see anything good ahead. Some things have changed, for which I think the G should get credit. (Except that it is fashionable to say that not enough is being done, or it’s too little or too late.)  I look at what’s been done for the pioneer generation and I (almost) wish I was over 65. I see my mother flashing her PG card wherever she goes in the hope of a discount,  shopping on days for pioneers, getting a free dental checkup and going for specialist medical treatment at lower prices and who will soon be getting medication at even lower rates. I am so glad for her. Even so, the contrarian view is that the G is merely buying votes in advance.

One of our problems is that we have a big G. Everything can be traced back to the hand of the G which is why it is so easy to impute all sorts of motives and blame it for everything. I actually think the G is a convenient scapegoat. That’s the price that a strong government (with good salaries) pays. Yet that is what we voted for in the past. But, as Ms Chang said, we’re no longer at the “developing’’ stage where the household is glad to substitute a black-and-white TV for a colour TV or swop the fan for the air-conditioner. Just look at the kinds of issues that have taken centre-stage this year at least on social media: Penguin-gate, Hong Lim Park protests, rights of foreign workers, Wear White versus Pink Dot, To Singapore with Love, self-classification of arts events. They are hardly bread-and-butter issues for citizens.

“Liberal’’ issues so fashionable in the west have taken root here. Even the G had to concede (engage?) on some points: the death penalty is off the table except in most egregious cases, Pink Dot was left unmolested, the arts community got their way and the penguins did not get pulped. More dormitories will be built for foreign workers and animal welfare legislation was pushed through Parliament. Liberal, civil rights types will claim victory; the G will say it “listened’’.

Of course, the G would insist that Singapore needs a strong government, or every single seat in Parliament. But even the ruling People’s Action Party seems to have conceded that it can’t turn back the clock and looks resigned to facing an uphill fight in the next general election. This is even though it has done a pretty job of fulfilling some promises made during the new normal after the last GE, such as easing transport and housing problems and tightening up on the flow of foreigners into Singapore.

Ms Chang wrote: “It is easy to skip along when economic growth powers ahead.

“What is required of us now is digging deep for correction and re-invention, learning not just to add, but also to subtract. It is perhaps here that we discover the fundamental character of Singapore society and whether cohesion truly exists – not just in a time of abundant growth, but in leanness and fractiousness.

“I think there is already a new vision being forged, and it looks something like this: one with greater social protection that avoids the rent-seeking, morally hazardous policies of Europe; one with leaders who inspire and empathise; one with a brave acknowledgement of entrenched racial and income privileges that masquerade as meritocracy; one with a more open and creative culture whose strength comes from bearing without breaking the weight of political, social and cultural differences, not from pretending those differences do not exist.’’

I agree with the first point on greater social protection. The G is allergic to the word “welfare’’ but I can’t help but think of the various wage support structures and credits for the employed or the write-offs that businesses get for restructuring as “welfare’’. It doesn’t want to have a poverty line or minimum wage but it was okay about mandating a progressive wage model for lower income workers like cleaners and security guards. Save for DPM Tharman, it won’t declare that it is “left of centre’’ but that it would focus on “social policies’’.

On the second point about inspirational and empathetic leaders, I think they are more empathetic than inspirational. In fact, I can’t even name more than a handful of MPs who have done a good job of speaking for the people (and I include the opposition MPs here).

On the third point about privileges that masquerade as meritocracy, the PAP has talked a great deal about busting “closed circles’’ and even amended its constitution to reflect a compassionate meritocracy but I am not sure that the “acknowledgment’’ has led to much action. Unless you count the emphasis on a technical vocation?

As for the last point on an open and creative culture, quite a lot depends on us too doesn’t it? I see the polarisation taking place among various groups staking their claim and I wonder if the accusation we hurl at the G about not being open should be applied to us as well. We no longer pretend that differences do not exist, that is true. But whether we can bear such a culture without breaking is still something we should watch out for. Unless we want the G to intervene…

So is a new vision being forged?

I think so. I agree in the main with what Ms Chang said. But I also think we should cut the G some slack and not see every single word or action as something nefarious. Remember the Our Singapore Conversation? One key thrust was trust. The G should trust us, and we should trust it too. It works both ways.

Dammit! I realised that I haven’t talked about 2015. Sigh. Too tired now.

Little India COI: Our Protocol Police

In News Reports on March 5, 2014 at 1:24 am

I will do my best here not to lose my temper. It’s going to be very hard because it had reached boiling point even before I got on to reading the second newspaper.

If you want to know what DAC Lu Yeow Lim, the ground commander at the Little India riot, did wrong (or did not do – which was the case) go buy TNP. It has usefully put out the headlines that display the man’s lack of ….ooops.

Revising this…He is a real law and order man, adheres to rules and protocols strictly, monitors situation as befits a commander shielded by a phalanx of bodyguards and decides do nothing because he didn’t want anyone hurt. Very nice. Never mind if police cars burn, property is less important than lives…So burn, baby, burn….

See? I told you it was going to be hard to keep my temper in check.

Anyway, TNP gave headlines to displayed the COI’s near-contempt (my words) for the man’s actions/inaction. This is my version based on ST, TNP and TODAY.

He didn’t know what was happening – That’s because when he got there, in civvies, he was at the wrong place. Not where the police cars were burning in Kerbau Road. He couldn’t see the scene from his spot at Hampshire Road. He had rushed out to the scene without changing into his uniform because he would wasted five minutes. The COI said a uniform would at least have marked him out to rioters as a figure of authority. Five minutes spent on a uniform was way longer than the half hour he had standing around in his civvies doing nothing at the scene.

Well, never mind that he was in “disguise’’. He said his officers recognised him and the rioters seemed to know who he was because whenever he moved out from behind his officers, he was pelted.

But the killer line is this: Police protocol dictates that commander can’t get into the heat of action. What if the commander got hurt? Who would lead then? But nobody’s asking you to get into the middle of it all, what about walking round the periphery, asked the COI. And what about ASP Jonathan Tang, the first responder, who was moving around all the time?

 This mere female sure hopes the SAF has different protocols.  

He didn’t know how many men he had – From what he could tell from where he was at – and where he stayed put – he had about eight men or so. Not the 100 plus that the COI, with video and the benefit of hindsight after three months of investigation, said was there, he retorted. Phone lines were jammed. He couldn’t get a handle on his manpower.

 Clearly, he was trying to say that HE was the ground commander. This was what HE saw and judged. As far as HE was concerned, he was out-numbered and any action would have led to a greater reaction on the part of the rioters.

He didn’t take any action – Well, he wasn’t “drinking coffee’’ either, he said. He decided to “hold the ground’’ and even, get this, stopped two of his men who wanted to stop the rioters from burning a police car right in front of them, because he didn’t want to antagonise rioters. And, get this, there are protocols in place that “deadly force’’ can be used to protect property, but there was no provision for burning vehicles! In any case, his “moral’’ position was to place the lives of human beings above the protection of property.

He read the crowd wrongly –  He said the crowd was aggressive (although how he assessed this was in contradiction to his statements that he couldn’t see the burning going on in Kerbau Road from where he was).  What if they surrounded him and his men and wrested their guns from them and started firing? What if some people got killed? Then he would be barracked for quite a different COI.

Seems he thinks police inaction was the way to handle the rioters so as not to escalate things. So he waited for the SOC to arrive as he “held the ground’’ rather than do a Charge of the Light Brigade. But the COI thinks that some action, even by a few good men, would have done much to quell the rioters who were instead emboldened into engaging in further violence. What about the lone cop, Sgt Fadli, who charged the crowd three times, the COI asked. Each time he charged, the crowd got smaller. DAC Lu noted that he didn’t make any arrests, so what’s the point?  Aiyoyo.

So what light did yesterday’s COI shed on what happened that night?

Well, it seems that drinking was only a contributory factor in the violence. Police inaction had to bear some/much of the blame too.

Looks like there is a difference in strategic thinking on what sort of action should or could be taken in such a scenario.   

From the way DAC Lu responded (wished he was as feisty with the rioters as he was with the COI…), he seemed to think that COI was out to “get him’’ and had the unfair advantage of video footage and three months’ worth of investigation although he had abided by protocol (Is wearing civvies also protocol I wonder) Also, he seemed to think that everyone with a view should realise that they were NOT there, not in that responsible position of having to make judgment calls that might endanger lives.

Okay, I am just speculating here.

Maybe some new protocols have to be written. Or maybe the police should throw away the Book of Police Protocols since it appeared to be more a “limiting’’ and restrictive tool than one which allowed the employment of initiative and common sense!

Like how DAC Lu said he had to get “clearance’’ from the Acting Commissioner if he wanted to use tear gas, under current protocol.  

Like how DAC Koh Wei Keong, who was in charge of SOC that night, said the call for help came from a “low ranking’’ (my words) officer when protocol dictates that it should come from “higher up’’ . He spent 10 minutes calling around to ascertain if the SOC was really needed at what seemed to be a crowd at a traffic accident site.

Well, even if the police didn’t “react’’ fast enough, they weren’t good enough at the “preventive’’ front either. Little India was brimful of foreign workers every weekend, most of whom were infused with alcohol, the COI said. It was a powder keg waiting to explode. But it seemed that the serious crime incidents had come down over the years so Little India wasn’t a “priority’’ for the cops. Quite odd. Residents have been complaining for years about the situation but the police prefer to rely on statistics…  

I read the news reports of yesterday’s COI and I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. But, seriously, what’s with our men in blue? If you’re a policeman, act like one, for crying out loud…

Little India COI: A brave young man

In News Reports on February 26, 2014 at 12:41 am

For a guy who’s just 28, ASP Jonathan Tang seems a remarkably cool and level-headed young man in the face of a ever growing and boisterous crowd that night of the Little India riot.

Okay. Some people would probably think he had been “prepped’’ – or would that be witness tampering I wonder? Still, he had some great quotes/sound bites:

“It was a not situation where just because we had firearms, we would have won the war.’’       

He said this when asked why he didn’t fire a warning shot to disperse the crowd. He said he considered it but figured that it would enrage the crowd further. “It was a situation where revolvers were out of play,’’ he said. Plus there were too few cops on the scene, as far as he could see. He wouldn’t know because communication lines were jammed that night. He did consider spraying the crowd with water from the SCDF Red Rhino but “was told it had no water’’, according to a TODAY report.

“I don’t think there was much time to even think about being frightened.’’

He said this when asked if he was too scared to make arrests. It was a “considered’’ decision, he said, given how his group was outnumbered. And while people would think he and his group were “fleeing the scene’’ when they got into an ambulance and scooted off, that was “never his intention’’.

For what it’s worth, I believe him. Why?

a)     It can’t be easy to face down a hostile crowd that seemed to be growing in numbers and pelting him and the officers.

b)    He had the presence of mind to get a rope from his car to form a makeshift cordon to let the SCDF officers get on with the job of extricating the dead man – although it wouldn’t have done much good if the crowd charged. But you wonder why he didn’t get the shield out instead…

c)     He got to his patrol car thinking he could ferry the bus driver and woman conductor to safety; and ended up picking up an injured SCDF and got him to an ambulance.

d)    That done, he went back to the scene to round up “stray officers’’ and got pelted on the head. By then the two people of the bus had been escorted to another ambulance

e)      He joined a group of 14 officers and they all got into an ambulance when they sensed the crowd was coming for them.  The ambulance already had its windscreen shattered and windows broken by then.

f)      The crowd was pelting bigger and bigger stuff and he wanted the ambulance to ram the patrol cars parked there which were blocking its way. In the end, the crowd did the favour of overturning a car and giving them an exit.    

g)     He was the one who called for Special Operations Command backup. I wish we also heard what exactly he said about this since earlier last week, the reason for the delay in SOC deployment was that the information was “sketchy’’.

He was asked about the police decision to “re-group’’ along Race Course Road instead of venturing into the crowd to make arrests. His answer: “It was a situation where we are surrounded by the crowd all around us. This should not be the case. We should be the ones to surround them, why are we putting ourselves in the centre of all of them?’’

Some interesting points – and some questions:

a)     That T-baton the police officers carry is a defensive weapon. The COI thought they should carry a lathi, which looks like a long pole. A good weapon? Although you wonder how the patrolmen are going to look on foot and carrying a big stick…

b)    All the police shields that patrol cars carry were cracked that night…Wonder if the SOC shield is stronger…

c)      Is the Red Rhino supposed to carry water?

d)    What did he think about the late arrival of the SOC?   

e)     Was he the one who told Cisco officers to stop making arrests?

Like I said, I wasn’t at the COI but ASP Tang’s answers seemed to point to a man too busy making a million decisions in a short time to let fear get in the way.

He did a “wonderful job in the situation’’ he was in, COI chairman Pannir Selvam told him.

Give that man a medal! 

Little India COI: The violence that night, according to the first responders

In News Reports on February 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Certis Cisco officer Nathan, a Tamil-speaking Malaysian, has been patrolling the Little India area on weekends since he joined the security firm in 2010. On Little India patrols, he works between 2pm and 1am on “foreign worker management’’,  and is empowered to issue summons for littering and to disperse loiterers. He said it was a difficult duty to discharge not because the foreign workers would not listen or resisted. Rather, they listened and reverted to whatever they were doing earlier when security officers were out of sight. The huge numbers also meant that one group would be quickly replaced by another. He said he issued just one summons a month and no, he had no orders to go easy on the workers from his superiors.  He had seen just one fight during his patrols.

The action

Mr Nathan and two other “protection officers’’, also Certis Cisco men, were in Northumberland Road when another three-man Cisco squad patrolling Tekka area radioed for help. Why “protection officers’’? They were there to protect Mr Nathan, a Malaysian who is Tamil-speaking and who was armed with baton and a revolver and empowered to issue summons. How the duo are supposed to do this when they themselves were not armed was not raised.  

When his team got to Race Course Road where the accident took place, a small crowd had gathered. With three or four foreign workers, the two squads formed a human shield round the bus which was being pelted. It seemed that the temperature climbed quickly, with more foreigners crowding around and some troublemakers at the back instigating the crowd in Tamil to “kill the timekeeper’’ that is, the female conductor. And to “burn the bus’’.

He estimated about 20 to 30 “active’’ troublemakers among the 200 or so people then. The crowd kept growing…

More Cisco officers arrived later, also police officers. A red Rhino arrived as well, followed by an SCDF ambulance. But the SCDF officers started getting pelted when they tried to extricate the dead man from under the bus. Missiles started getting larger, with beer bottles, drain covers and dustbins being thrown. From aiming at the bus, the rioters had started aiming at the people instead.

One Cisco officer was seen on video getting hot under his collar – there was some scuffling and pushing as the crowd tried getting near the bus. Mr Nathan was seen talking to the crowd – a less than useful gesture, as the COI members pointed out, since he didn’t have a loud hailer and was talking to the front rows which were not hostile. (Guess the “foreign worker management’’ teams will have a loud hailer with them from now on).

The crowd had  reached about 1,000 or so, according to Mr Nathan.

 After they extricated the dead men, the SCDF officers got on the bus to get the driver and the female conductor to safety. There was a lot of animosity directed at the female conductor, who seemed to be well known for “scolding’’ foreign workers. Also, she was pinpointed as the person who got Mr Sakhiteval off the bus which later ran over him.

Although she had denied using words like “stupid’’ and “idiot’’ on them last week, Mr Nathan refuted this and even said he had heard her uttering more than that. (The COI did not want to hear what other choice epithets she used though…sheeesh). Other conductors weren’t as harsh, he said, although he acknowledged that some scolding was needed to get the workers in order.

When the bus driver and conductor were got to safety, the crowd started leaving the accident area…only to appear at other parts of Little India.

When the SOC arrived, the crowd started dispersing and offered no resistance. They were “scared’’, he said. Then the police started arresting those who were still milling around. He himself arrested three people, including two him he described as “heavily drunk’’.

The questions:

Why didn’t he use his gun or make an arrest?

Mr Nathan said he was pelted on the back of the head by someone in the crowd but decided against arresting the man because it would be dangerous to make his way through the crowd. Also, they might wrest his revolver from him. Replying to ex Police Commissioner Tee Tua Ba, he said he didn’t think making an arrest would deter the rioters. More policemen and more arrests were needed to make an impact on the crowd, he said.

What were the policemen doing while waiting for the Special Operations Command staff to turn up?

“Calling and taking instructions’’ – the phrase was repeated three times. From what Mr Ganesan Nathan said, it appeared that the policemen were standing around and making phone calls while watching cars being over-turned and burned. A group of 100 or so policemen including Cisco and plain clothes formed lines across one part of Race Course Road but the crowd never made its way towards them. They were creating havoc (my word) elsewhere in the area.

What was Little India like before and after the riot?

There was little order in terms of alighting and getting off the buses. There were too many foreign workers on the weekends and too many shops selling liquor. Even vegetable stalls were selling liquor. There were just 60 Cisco officers patrolling on weekends, and police presence was minimal. Now, the bus area is so well-lit that “no one sits there’’ and the presence of policemen were “too many to count’’.

Mr Nathan’s conclusions were pretty scathing. His view was that the police acted too slowly and there weren’t enough of them. More arrests of the troublemakers  made earlier would have helped the situation. Except that they seemed to be doing “reporting’’ and waiting for backup in the form of the SOC.    

* I think I covered everything. I am sorry to say I didn’t cover the third witness…but I have to leave something for MSM to do!!!!    

  

      

Litle India COI: A fellow bus passenger testifies

In News Reports on February 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

 Okay, I saw the video at the Little India COI. Parts of it anyway. Saw the Indian foreign worker board the bus for his Jalan Bahar dorm. Saw him get called to get off the bus. Saw him walking and then running alongside the bus when it started moving. Saw him place his palm on the bus, slip on the wet ground and go under…

My eyes shut at that point.

So was Mr Sakthivel drunk? He didn’t seem so as far I could tell from the video. I mean, he wasn’t swaying, swerving, staggering or falling over his feet. The video had no audio so no one could tell if he was slurring (not that I would understand Tamil anyway). And no one asked about his breath either. The 33 year old was gripping an umbrella and a bag of something with one hand while the other hand seemed to be holding up his pants. The video didn’t show him dropping them deliberately but it seemed his trousers were suffering from some kind of zipper malfunction.

Bits and pieces of the video were replayed this morning for the benefit of his fellow Indian national, a Mr Ganesan, a welder, who was on the bus as well. Mr Ganesan said he thought the man had “some alcohol’’ in him; because of what he did before he boarded the bus. Apparently, Mr Sakthivel didn’t like it that the female conductor had asked a Bangladeshi to get the Indians in line before boarding the bus. He was asking those in the queue if they thought Bangladeshis were better than Indians.

That appeared to be the main commotion he caused, going by what Mr Ganesan said. But the female conductor, who seemed to be very much a battleaxe, told him to get off the bus anyway.  He said the female conductor ordered Mr Sakthivel off the bus – or the bus wouldn’t move. Mr Ganesan thought she seemed to have noticed the earlier commotion he caused. He wondered why she ordered him off, when he was already on. With many pairs of eyes trained on him, Mr Sakthivel alighted. Unmolested.

 It took close to three hours for Mr Ganesan  to go over his statement and respond to the COI’s questions, because he needed an interpretor (Have to ask this: Does it take twice as long to render in Tamil what is said in English?)

In fact, there was a point when it seemed that he was about to recant his statement, when asked to positively identify Mr Sakthivel as the man who was making a fuss before boarding the bus. The man seemed at pains not to say anything incriminating about either the dead man or his compatriots, especially on whether drunken behaviour and fights were a common sight in Little India.

Maybe he wasn’t quite the right man either. He goes to
Little India once every two months, usually to meet friends. He’s a teetotaller and that Dec 8 night was the only time he had half a bottle of Knockout Beer, he said. He goes to Boon Lay to remit money home, about $750 of his $1,000-or-so monthly paycheck – not Little India. And he prefers to rest on his days off or at least be back in the dorm early. In fact, he legged it to the next bus after the accident because he had to start work at 8am the next day.

The COI didn’t just grill him about what went on that night. It seemed to be on some kind of fact-finding mission on what he and his fellow country thought about Singapore as a place to work in. Such as whether they get harassed by Cisco officers while in Little India and whether pay and working conditions were acceptable. He said no to the first question and yes to the other two.

In case you’re interested in a glimpse of his life: He shares a dorm room with 10 others and they have a television set, although they would rather watch television in a communal area. But he did complain about the disparity in pay across companies and asked for a $2 rise in pay. He started with $20 a day with his first company 10 years ago and his second company paid him $25 a day. He  said he had to make his third company pay him the $24 it promised rather than the $22. He is happy with his current company which pays him $32 a day and also because it pays him “on time’’.

The cynical would probably wonder if Mr Ganesan could ever say anything nasty about his workplace or Singapore while he is still in the country. He was also asked if he agreed/disagreed with other foreign workers if Singapore was the best place to work in compared to the Middle East or Malaysia. Something was lost in translation causing the question to be repeated. The bottomline: Singapore is best, although how he could come to that conclusion since he had never worked anywhere else wasn’t asked. Perhaps, the COI considered that  that he was making his fourth work trip to Singapore, a place which his mother had recommended, and this was evidence enough of his contentment with place.

His testimony wasn’t as exciting as the next witness, Certis Cisco officer Nathan, a Malaysian who has been patrolling in Little India on weekends since he started work as an auxillary police cop in 2010.

That’s the next instalment. Coming up in half hour.

 

 

  

      

An “abbreviated” version of the Little India COI

In News Reports on February 22, 2014 at 4:31 am

Here are some choice quotes from the Little India riot COI chairman Pannir Selvam culled from news reports:

“It was poor judgement.’

He said this in response to Deputy Commissioner Raja Kumar’s comment that the ground commander on the night exercised “judgment’’ not to make a move until riot police arrived. They were “holding the ground’’. The COI noted that there were 100 policemen then, and only about 25 active rioters. Mr Raja said that the police, who weren’t trained for such events, were worried about the bystanders as well if they had acted against the rioters.

What has happened is not acceptable.’

He said this after noting that having police standing around doing nothing would lead the rioters to assume that the police were “indirectly approving’’ of their actions.

“Singapore, being a rich country, is a prime trophy target for terrorists. We don’t know where they are hiding or what they will target. If we do not have a dependable resource (like the SOC), then we are in trouble. This is what I am worried about.”

He said this after Mr Raja Kumar detailed the resource “constraints’’ the police had. The number of SOC troops have come down from 12 to eight, and the number of men in each have dropped too (no figure was reported) There were also other areas for the SOC to take care off, like Geylang. Hence, it’s pretty tight on weekends.    

Former police commissioner Tee Tua Ba was less scathing but as critical.

“Unfortunately, it took more than one hour. One hour is a long time.’

He said this after Mr Raja Kumar said that when riot police arrived, the situation was brought under control in 15 minutes to an hour.

“A lot of things are not working very well..I’m glad that you are going along the lines that things can be reviewed.’’

He said this after criticising the police move to “hold the ground’’ and referred to the riots in north England in 2001 which had shown that such a strategy merely “emboldened’’ rioters.

Poor Mr Raja Kumar. He was acting Commissioner at the time of the Little India riot and probably wished his boss was around then. He should have been dressed in riot gear when he faced the COI yesterday to shield himself against the missiles thrown his way.

Actually, his main defence was that major crimes in Little India had come down, although jay-walking went up. The SOC was short-handed and there were plenty of places it had to also “cover’’. Nevertheless, the SOC had been deployed 16 times on anti-crime patrols in Little India last year.

So he was quizzed about why the SOC took so long – more than an hour from the call for help – to get to the scene. Here’s what happened: The top officer who took the call for help wanted to do “due diligence’’ because the information was “sketchy’’ and wanted to speak to someone on the ground. That was why the decision to deploy took about 18 minutes, which could be “abbreviated’’, as Mr Raja Kumar said.

Here’s one interesting bit that only The New Paper had:

One SOC troop was at City Hall patrolling when the call arrived. It made its way to Bukit Timah Road and was about to turn into Race Course Road when it was given orders to turn around and regroup at Hampshire Road. It made a U-turn at Sim Lim Square, went back up Bukit Timah and ran headlong into a jam at Kampong Java. Some of vehicles were then told to break off and make their way back down Bukit Timah Road, that is, the original route. This comedy was reported in The New Paper with a useful map. The call to “re-group’’ appeared to have cost 10 minutes of time….

Another troop made its way from Queensway to Hampshire Road.

The time of first call: 9.23pm. Activation of SOC: 10.04pm. SOC reaches scene: 10.45pm  – 10.48pm.

Thing is, as Mr Selvam asked, shouldn’t the SOC have been beefed up especially after 9/11? Mr Raja Kumar said in the past, large scale responses were needed, but today’s threats required a “different’’ response. Still, he lamented the “manpower constraint’’. Give me more men and we’ll patrol Little India every weekend, he seemed to be saying.

Hm. Wonder why the numbers were cut…Had a look at the Home Affairs ministry budget for the coming year. It’s $4.2 billion, up by 8.4 per cent. Hopefully, this will pay for more men? Hopefully, an MP will ask the question when the Committee of Supply scrutinises the ministry’s budget.

Anyway, Mr Raja Kumar was the first policeman to face the COI. It would be interesting to hear what the other officers, especially the ground officers, say about exercising their judgments that night.